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September 28, 2010

Digoin Digest

I arrived yesterday in Digoin, the city of 8,500 souls where I will live and work for the next seven months. One of train conductors struck up a conversation with me on my way here from Paris, and when I told him where I was headed he wrinkled his nose and said, "Mais... pourqoui?!? C'est tout petit!" He seemed genuinely concerned that I was going to have a terrible time and hate France, so he gave me his number and said to call him if I was ever in Chalon.

My contact from the school was waiting for me at the station when I departed the train-- it wasn't hard for her to find me since I was the only person who got off. My new conductor friend had inflated my confidence by telling me that I spoke very good French, but all of that evaporated when I started talking with the teacher. I kept answering questions incorrectly (Ex: Her: Was it a long journey? Me: I arrived in France on Saturday.) and stuttering my French conjugations, so she must have thought I was a prize idiot.

She took me to a grocery store so I could buy some provisions: baguette, chevre, Nutella (bien sur) and then took me back to my new home. She opened the door with a flourish and said, "Bienvenue a ton grand appartement!" Gulp. My first thought was: jail cell. It seems much smaller than the single dorm room I had in college, though maybe with the bathroom included it's the same size. The walls are painted a depressing shade of blue, and they seemed to have crammed as much depressing gray furniture in it as possible. A bed, desk, wardrobe and shelves are all squeezed in alongside a mini fridge, cabinet, hot plate and toaster oven. I'm going to wait to take a picture of it until it looks less cell-like.

Rather than wallowing, I took off to try to explore the village in the waning sunlight. I spied a library and a gym filled with beefy French dudes, as well as a lot of closed storefronts. I got a bit lost on the way back and ended up having a very creepy experience by a fog-filled cemetery. An ancient episode of Gossip Girl I happened to have on my computer lulled me to sleep in my Internet-free lodging.

This morning I went out to explore the city and get some much-needed items, such as a towel and a knife with more cutting power than the butter knives in my room. I plastered a huge smile on my face and forced myself to say a cheerful, "Bonjour!" to everyone I passed. Most responded likewise. Some detoured to the other side of the street. I made a detour at the river, which looks like this:


After my stop at a supermarché, I returned home for a shower. I waited for ages for the water to heat up to no avail, so I went to my school's office for help. While I waited in the head secretary's office for a janitor, I made the acquaintance of several teachers coming in and out. One asked me how in the heck I had ended up in Digoin. "Did you fall out of the plane?" he asked me in French.

My plumbing fixed, I met up my contact teacher. She invited me to sit in on her English classes. I thought I was just there to observe, but instead she had me stand at the front of the class and field questions about myself. I made an apparently fatal error when answering the question about what music I like with "Carla Bruni." They all laughed. I redeemed myself by saying I also liked Louise Attaque. Their other questions included, "'Ave you been to Las Vay-gass?" "What ahr your 'obbies?" "Do you love Barack Obama?" "What you think about zee snails?" "What words of French do you know?" "What age do you 'ave?" "Pleeze speak mooch more slowly."

I was told my job would consist of helping small groups of these students prepare for their oral examination at the end of the year, where they must discuss "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and another surprise text.

Since I was surviving on the pain au chocolat and few gulps of orange juice I'd had that morning, by 18:00 I decided to come into town for a proper meal. I'm sitting at Entre Mer et Montagne, which thankfully has wifi, and waiting for it to be 20:00 so I can get dinner. The building I'm in is on the left side of the street in the picture below.


Thus begins the most awkward (and hopefully most rewarding) period of my life...

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